Two-thirds of kids prefer a real tree for Christmas – but what about Santa?

Five- to 10-year-olds name the best Christmas tree pickers in their family, set limits on what they would and wouldn’t do to make sure their tree is the real deal, and estimate just how long it takes to grow one (give or take 500 years).

HOWELL, Mich., November 10, 2020 – You can add one more thing to your child’s Christmas list this year: they want a real Christmas tree. In a September survey of 200 children ages five to 10, a full two-thirds of them (66%) said “real” vs. “artificial” (34%) when asked what kind of Christmas tree they like best. When asked what they think the big man himself prefers, they had little doubt. Nearly all of them (96%) believe Santa puts up a real tree for the holidays.

“There’s no shortage of research into what adults think about Christmas trees, and of course, as members of the industry, we’re true believers in keeping it real,” said Marsha Gray, executive director of the Real Christmas Tree Board (RCTP). “But there’s nothing like looking at the holidays through the eyes of children, so we decided to ask them what they think. Their answers made us smile, but also made us think.”

Free to be you and me … and to leave up the tree.
For adults, Christmas trees can come with convictions akin to sports rivalries. Artificial? Not in my house you won’t. A star topper vs. an angel? Heresy! Put it up before Thanksgiving? I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. 

But according to the survey, kids are, for the most part, pretty open-minded. When asked “How long do you think people should have their Christmas tree up?” nearly half (47%) chose “for as long as they want.” That seems like a pretty good step toward Peace on Earth. Just under a third (29%) went in for a more traditional view, choosing “from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.” A few (5%) were more rigid, allowing “just Christmas Eve and Day only.” Seventeen percent seemed to have embraced Dicken’s call to “… honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” They said leave the Christmas tree up all year long. The last 2% of respondents went their own way with answers like “After Mardi Gras,” and “Until Grandma’s birthday.” (No word on when Grandma’s birthday actually is though …)

Parents for the win when picking the tree …
Kids have kudos for their folks when asked “Who in your family picks out the best Christmas tree?” Nearly half (48%) said mom, and 29% said dad. Kind of a bummer for dad, but he’s still far ahead compared to siblings. Only 1% of kids named their brothers or sisters as the best tree-pickers. As for themselves? Twenty percent claimed the title while 3% took the high road (after all, there is no “I” in “tree”) and answered, “all of us.”  

… but how do you really feel, Heath?
The holidays are notoriously a time of stress and anxiety, but when it comes to heading out to get the Christmas tree, parents are pretty happy to do so (or at least pretend to be.) When the kids were asked “How do your parents act when it’s time to get a tree?” nearly nine in 10 (88%) said, “Eager and excited.” That’s compared to 8% who said, “They wish someone else would do it for them,” 2% “they are annoyed and impatient,” and 3% “some other mood.” A few of the accompanying comments suggest a possible gender divide with several saying, “mom is excited, but dad is not.” One respondent named names, saying, “Mom gets happy. Heath gets mad.” 

Make me an offer.
The survey challenged kids to put their money where their hopes are, presenting a list of options and asking, “If you had to do something special in order to have a Christmas tree, which would you do?” Giving up one month of their allowance came in next to last, with only 19% agreeing they’d trade cash for the pleasure of a real tree’s company. On the bright side, 73% said they would be willing to clean their room if it meant a tree was in the offing. Helping out in the kitchen came in next at 58%. Half of the kids said they would “be nice to their brother(s) or sister(s) for an entire week” to earn a tree. But just a quarter (25%) said they would “give up video games for an entire week” for the same trade-off. Only four percent were unwilling to do anything to bring a real tree into their Christmas, choosing the “I wouldn’t do any of these” option.

Speak to us of trees and memories and time.
While the first part of the survey consisted of multiple-choice questions with a few opportunities to add color commentary, the second part was entirely open-ended. Here’s what kids had to say on a number of Christmas and Christmas tree topics:

When asked to talk about their Christmas tree from last year, recollections included the prosaic (“It was fat at the bottom and smaller at the top,”), the passionate (“big-white-real-tree-decorated-SOOOOOO-nice!”), the descriptive (“It was gold and red and elegant”), and the empathetic (“It looked so nice and happy.”)  At least one memory was tinged with resignation: “Mom and Dad don’t let us decorate the back side against the wall.” 

See, mom and dad? They remember.  

In fact, kids remember quite a bit. Survey questions about last year’s gifts, holiday clothes, and dinners yielded vivid – and often excitable – replies: “My doll! My bike! My slippers!” (A three-exclamation point Christmas is all any of us can ask for, isn’t it?) “I wore a red sparkle dress and black tap shoes,” said one young lady. “Church pants; button shirt,” said one young man. “Nothing,” said one young naturist (presumably). Pancakes, shrimp, “Christmas fettuccini,” tacos, ham, tamales, potatoes, pie, and pizza (“No. We did not have pizza,” interjected mom on that one …) made the list of Christmas dinners – or as one respondent described it: “Thanksgiving food. Nana makes it every Christmas.”  

When asked how long they think it takes to grow a real Christmas tree, kids answered with conviction, vague guesses, and occasionally great precision. “50 minutes,” one specified. “Three-hundred days,” said another. “Sixteen to seventeen weeks,” said a third. One can only hope those three are destined to become close – and meticulous – friends. The real answer is seven to 10 years, by the way. But it’s hard not to prefer the beautifully enigmatic “forever and longer” that came from one young poet. A million days and a million years were mentioned by a million kids – okay, a few kids anyway. It turns out location is key, though. “A very, very long time,” was one reply. “Unless it’s in the North Pole. It’s magic there.” But most often, respondents said it takes “a very long time to grow a Christmas tree” (just one very), perhaps because, as one child explained, “They are special.” 

We feel the same way, kiddo. We feel the same way. 

About the Survey
TRUE Global Intelligence, the in-house research practice of FleishmanHillard, fielded an online survey of 200 children ages 5 to 10 fielded from September 10th to 11th, 2020. All parents who responded to the survey routinely celebrate or observe Christmas and had a child between the ages of 5 and 10 currently present with them at the time of the survey. The parents were enlisted to assist their children in answering questions, if needed, based on the child’s age. 

Know Your Sources

  • Established in 2015, the Real Christmas Tree Board (RCTP) is a national research and promotion program whose mission is to share the benefits of fresh Christmas trees with consumers through promotion and public relations, while engaging in research to better serve our customers and growers. The USDA provides oversight of the RCTB to ensure transparency and accuracy in its communications. This press release was developed and distributed by the RCTP.
  • The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) is the national trade association representing the Christmas tree industry. NCTA represents more than 700 active member farms, 29 state and regional associations, and more than 4,000 affiliated businesses that grow and sell Christmas trees or provide related supplies and services. The NCTA represents the Real Christmas Tree community with one voice to protect and advocate on the industry’s behalf. 
  • The American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) is a 501(c)(3) corporation run by CEO Thomas Harman2. Harman is the founder of Balsam Hill, a seller of artificial Christmas trees.3 The majority of artificial Christmas trees are made overseas.4 


1 Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of an Artificial Christmas Tree and a Natural Christmas Tree; Ellipsos, Montreal, Quebec, 2009; pages 6 & 8.